Preston championed Messiaen’s organ works, both in recital and on disc, at a time when they were relatively unknown in England. Incredibly, he made his first Messiaen recording – of L’Ascension – at only a week’s notice, in August 1962. The venue was the great vaulted chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, where he had been organ scholar for the best part of five years under the tuition of C.H. Trevor. Three years later there followed what is now the most popular of the composer’s organ cycles, La Nativité du Seigneur, recorded in Westminster Abbey, where he was by now sub-organist: still an astonishingly precocious achievement.
Preston continued to make records for Argo and Decca at a rate of knots: ten solo organ recordings on Argo alone between 1963 and 1968, and all acclaimed at the time for a rhythmic control and brilliance of registration that marked him out as a musician of extraordinary gifts. He was also recording as a harpsichordist and continuo player with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, and soon as a conductor in his own right. His own compositions from the 1960s, notably Alleluyas for organ, reflect Messiaen’s style. The present set is completed by Le banquet celeste and the much more rarefied challenges of Les Corps Glorieux, recorded at St Albans Cathedral in July 1969.